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Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

January 4, 2017

BRIAN C. DAVISON, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUDOUN COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES C. CACHERIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Defendant Phyllis Randall, Chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, blocked Plaintiff Brian Davison from what Plaintiff claims is her official County Facebook page. Plaintiff alleges that this violated his First Amendment and Due Process rights. Defendant Randall has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against her [Dkt. 35], and Plaintiff has in turn moved for summary judgment on those claims [Dkt. 39]. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny both Motions.

         I. Background

         A detailed discussion of the events giving rise to this case can be found in the Court's Memorandum Opinion [Dkt. 11] granting in part and denying in part a previous motion to dismiss. As such, the Court repeats here only what is germane to its rulings on the present Motions.

         Plaintiff is a resident of Loudoun County, Virginia, who takes “an interest in rules of ethics for public officials.” Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 1. He filed suit against the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and its individual members after the Board allegedly ratified a subordinate's decision to delete his comments from the Board's official Facebook page.

         Plaintiff's original Complaint referenced a previous incident during which Defendant Randall allegedly blocked Plaintiff from commenting on her official Facebook page. See id. ¶¶ 24, 33. That incident, however, was not the subject of any of Plaintiff's claims.

         All Defendants - including Defendant Randall - moved to dismiss Plaintiff's original Complaint. In a Memorandum Opinion, the Court granted that Motion in part and denied it in part. As relevant here, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the individual members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, but permitted Plaintiff's First Amendment and Due Process claims to proceed against the Board itself. In doing so, the Court found Plaintiff had plausibly alleged that Loudoun County's Social Media Comments Policy, see Compl. Exh. 11 [Dkt. 1-11], serves to designate the Board's official Facebook page as a limited public forum under the First Amendment.

         Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint [Dkt. 33] adding claims against Defendant Randall based on the incident mentioned in Plaintiff's original Complaint. To wit, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Randall utilizes an official Facebook page in connection with her duties as Chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. See Am. Compl. [Dkt. 33] ¶¶ 5-6. He claims that Defendant Randall uses her Facebook page to communicate with her constituents, and through it “solicit[s] and allow[s] public comments and discussions.” See id. ¶¶ 5-6, 9. He further contends that, as an official County social media website, the County's Social Media Comments Policy applies to Defendant Randall's Facebook page. See id. ¶¶ 1, 2, 10; Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶¶ 21, 29-30.

         Plaintiff claims that on February 3, 2016, Defendant Randall blocked him from posting comments to her official Facebook page. See Am. Compl. [Dkt. 33] ¶ 15. She allegedly did so because Plaintiff had made “comments critical of either Randall's actions or those of other government officials of Virginia.” Id. Defendant Randall later acknowledged that she had blocked Plaintiff from her Facebook page. See id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff argues that this violated his First Amendment and Due Process rights.

         On November 17, 2016, Defendant Randall filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's claims against her [Dkt. 35]. Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Dkt. 39] with respect to his new claims.

         II. Legal Standard

         “Summary judgment is appropriate only if taking the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, ‘no material facts are disputed and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ausherman v. Bank of Am. Corp., 352 F.3d 896, 899 (4th Cir.2003)). An unresolved issue of fact precludes summary judgment only if it is both “genuine” and “material.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” on that issue. Id. at 248. It is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. “In the end, the question posed by a summary judgment motion is whether the evidence ‘is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Lee v. Bevington, 647 F. App'x 275 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ” drawing “all reasonable inferences” in the plaintiff's favor. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). Generally, the Court may not look beyond the four corners of the complaint in evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Goldfarb v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir. 2015). “A court has wide discretion to exclude matters outside of the pleadings” in evaluating such a motion. Norfolk Fed'n of Bus. Districts v. Dep't of Hous. & Urban Dev., 932 F.Supp. 730, 736 (E.D. Va.), aff'd sub nom. Norfolk Fed'n of Bus. Districts v. City of Norfolk, 103 F.3d 119 (4th Cir. 1996).

         The Court is mindful that Plaintiff is proceeding in this matter pro se. A “document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed, ' and ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

         Turning first to Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Dkt. 39], the Court notes that the Motion does not cite to any evidence of record. Indeed, it does not appear that there is, at this point, any record to speak of in this case. Plaintiff amended his Complaint on November 3, 2016, to include for the first time the claims that are the subject of the instant Motions. Defendant Randall has not yet filed an answer to the Amended Complaint and no discovery has taken place.

         Instead of record evidence, Plaintiff cites to the allegations of his own Amended Complaint.[1] Those allegations do not establish a factual basis for summary judgment. As Defendant notes, many of Plaintiff's allegations are disputed and, at this point, remain only allegations. Material issues of fact - for example, who maintains Defendant ...


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